NLRB South Carolina Power Grab

by Orrin Hatch

On April 20, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued one of the most far-reaching and outrageous complaints ever issued by the Board against a private business.  This complaint against The Boeing Company is easily one of the most outlandish and regrettable complaints the NLRB has ever issued and should outrage every American — Republican or Democrat.   

So, what happened? 

In October 2009, Boeing, which operates a huge manufacturing plant in Puget Sound, Washington, announced that it would build a new production line for its 787 Dreamliner fleet in South Carolina, a decision that promised billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of new jobs for that state. Best of all, there was no coinciding announcement of layoffs at the Puget Sound facility. In fact, not a single job was lost in the State of Washington as a result of Boeing’s decision. On the contrary, Boeing has added an additional 2,000 jobs in Puget Sound since that time. 

Added jobs in Washington plus added jobs in South Carolina sounds like a win-win for American workers and America’s economy, particularly at a time when so many companies are opting to do business overseas.

But, here’s the rub. Boeing’s plant in Puget Sound was staffed entirely by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, and South Carolina is a right-to-work state. Boeing was not required under its collective bargaining agreement to perform this work in Washington. Even so, the union cried foul. 

Seventeen months and a billion-dollar investment by Boeing later, the NLRB filed its complaint, which contains no substantive evidence of anti-union animus on the part of Boeing or of an adverse impact on the unionized workers in Washington — both of which are required to demonstrate the type of violation alleged in this case. 

Sadly, the Board’s borderline frivolous interpretation of the law is not the most appalling part. In addition to wrongfully asserting that Boeing unlawfully transferred bargaining unit work to South Carolina, the NLRB is seeking an order stipulating that this new work cannot be performed in South Carolina and must be moved to Washington. In short, they’ve asserted the right to make Boeing’s business decisions for them. 

The chilling effect of this complaint will be unmistakable. To borrow from Frank Sinatra, if they can do it there, they can do it anywhere. If the NLRB can do this to South Carolina, disrupting business and killing jobs, it can do it anywhere, including Utah or any other right-to-work state. This is likely the very message the Board is trying to send with the Boeing complaint.

This is nothing short of a gift-wrapped present to Big Labor, which is not surprising. To date, the president and congressional Democrats have been unable to enact the most significant parts of their pro-union agenda — such as the Employee Free Choice Act — through the legislative process. So, instead, they have opted to let unelected bureaucrats do their dirty work for them. 

In this instance, the government-official-turned-union-foot-soldier was the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon. But this is certainly not the first time an agency under the Obama administration has sought to circumvent Congress to help out the unions. Last year, for example, the National Mediation Board (NMB), which regulates labor relations in the transportation sector, overturned 75 years of policy in an attempt to grease the rails in union elections and make unionization the default position of the airline industry. 

More than just matters of ideology, these types of government actions are debilitating to our economy at a time when we are struggling to recover from one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.  While these decisions may appease certain political constituencies, they also cost jobs at a time when we are struggling to reduce unemployment. 

In recent months, President Obama has embarked on the proverbial “move to the middle” in preparation for the 2012 election campaign. In doing so, the president has stated that he wants to improve our nation’s business climate. He has said, in so many words, that America should be the “best place on earth to do business.” Sadly, I don’t think many in his administration have gotten the memo. Until his administration stops getting in the way of growth and job creation and starts acting on behalf of all American workers — and not just those represented by unions — any pro-growth and pro-business rhetoric on the part of the president will be utterly meaningless. 

— Orrin Hatch is a Republican U.S. senator from Utah.

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